How do you eat? Is stress causing your bloating?
Updated: Jun 4
Many people with bloating or reflux have tried cutting out dairy or gluten, or both. They've been avoiding FODMAP foods and they've tried to eliminate coffee. By the time I see them they are feeling confused and wondering if food intolerance tests can pin down exactly what could be causing their symptoms.
But what if it's not the food? Digestive symptoms are not always a direct result of a food intolerance. In fact a common culprit is stress, and I'll tell you why:
How do you eat?
When I work with people who experience daily bloating or reflux I like to ask them how and when they eat, which is just as important as what they eat.
These are some common answers, can you relate to any of them?
I have a smoothie in the car on my way to work.
I just grab a banana on my way to the gym.
I don't have time for breakfast.
I eat my toast in the car while I'm dropping the children to daycare.
I don't stop for lunch, I eat at my desk.
I don't have time for lunch so I eat a protein bar to keep me going.
I snack on fruit and bliss balls between classes because I don't get a break for lunch.
I'm can't eat in front of customers, so I take a bite of my sandwich when I go into the back room.
I have playground duty at recess and lunch, so I just gobble something when I can.
I don't have time for lunch, so I'm starving and snacking when I get home.
I stop at the petrol station to grab some snacks if I'm feeling peckish.
I don't stop for dinner, I just nibble on the food that I've prepared for my kids.
I eat dinner while catching up with the news on TV.
I don't get a chance to eat dinner until around 8 or 9 o'clock when I've put the kids to bed.
What these answers have in common is not gluten or dairy, but the busyness of the day, the stressful lifestyle and the day-by-day overwhelm that is common in our lives. Many people start and end their days in a state of 'fight or flight' which can have a direct impact on the way our digestive system can process food.
How to tell if you're stressed
In my experience, a surprisingly small percentage of people recognise that their lives are stressful. Many people compare themselves to others who are more successful, or have major trauma in their lives, when assessing their own stress levels.
The following signs can be used as a guide to determine how stressful your life is, the more points you can relate to, the more likely your lifestyle is busy and overwhelming.
1. Emotional signs that you're stressed:
feeling unusually irritable, or easily angered
feeling defensive and sensitive to criticism
feeling low in confidence and self-esteem
2. Psychological signs that you're stressed:
Experiencing 'brain fog' is when you can't concentrate or make simple decisions, your memory is poor, you feel vague, and get distracted easily
Your thoughts are racing and you feel constantly worried
Feeling like your mood is low and you're unmotivated
Poor sleep, or sleeping but waking unrefreshed
3. Behavioural signs that you're stressed:
You've started to rely on alcohol or drugs to help you cope with your lifestyle (recreational drugs, painkillers, reflux medication, sleeping medication)
You have no time to relax or enjoy life and would feel guilty if you had free time
You're working too many hours
You have withdrawn from your social activities because you don't have time for them
You're experiencing relationship problems
You're eating on the run
You're multitasking because there aren't enough hours in the day
4. Digestive signs of stress:
indigestion or reflux
feeling like food is stuck in your throat, or sitting undigested in your stomach
bloating and/or abdominal cramping
nausea, lack of appetite
constipation, diarrhoea or both
feeling tired after eating
Rest and digest
When working with men and women with digestive symptoms I like to recommend that they eat mindfully for a full week to see if their symptoms improve. I find that almost 100% of my clients get some benefit from this advice.
Mindful eating means stopping, relaxing and taking some long deep breaths before eating slowly. I also recommend paying attention to enjoying what you're eating, the flavour of the food and how many times you chew.
What else could it be?
While stress can cause immediate digestive problems, over the long term stress and poor digestion can lead to more complicated health conditions. I recommend getting advice from your doctor as well as a naturopath. Your digestive symptoms could also be caused by SIBO, histamine intolerance, gut dysbiosis, food intolerances, or something more serious.
take time to sit down at a table to eat (not your desk or car)
take some relaxing breaths before starting your meal
chew each mouthful well
If these steps don't improve your bloating, then please get in touch.
Hi! I'm Simone Jeffries. I am a naturopath, nutritionist, herbalist and certified wellness coach.
The information in this blog is from my Bachelor of Health Science degree, experience from working with women in my clinic, and continuing research.
This blog is for information only and not intended to take the place of medical advice. Please seek assistance for any medical concerns.